Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputies will receive department-issued gun vaults to be installed in their personal vehicles to ensure the safe storage of their firearms, Sheriff Laurie Smith said.
The initiative is aimed at helping ensure firearm security in the wake of several law enforcement officers' guns being stolen from vehicles and falling into the wrong hands. The vaults also will be installed in unmarked Sheriff's Office vehicles.
A total of 750 portable gun vaults from SnapSafe will be issued for deputies, funded by donations from the Sheriff’s Advisory Board. The sheriff's office on Thursday starting installing some of the gun vaults into its patrol cars.
Smith held a news conference Thursday, along with state Sen. Jerry Hill, to formally announce the gun vault program and demonstrate how they operate. Smith believes the lock boxes will save lives.
"We’ve seen some recent tragedies when a firearm was stolen from a peace officer in a homicide," she said. "We want to stop that."
Hill is the author of Senate Bill 869, which requires any person, including law enforcement officers at the local, state, and federal level, to take the same precautions that civilians do when handguns are left unattended in vehicles.
San Francisco and Oakland had already issued local ordinances that addressed the same gun storage issues.
The state bill, which takes effect in January, was spurred in part by the senseless death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, who was fatally shot in July 2015 while walking on a San Francisco pier. The gun used in the shooting had been stolen from the vehicle of Bureau of Land Management ranger.
On Thursday, Hill called on law enforcement across the country to follow Santa Clara County's example.
"When those weapons are taken, they always seem to end up in the hands of a criminal in some way or another," Hill said.
There are other several documented cases of guns being stolen from the cars of police officers; however, none stem from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. Some of the other Bay Area cases include:
- In August 2015, a handgun belonging to a Hayward police officer was stolen from a car in Oakland.
- Also in August, a handgun belonging to the chief of the UC Berkeley Police was stolen from her car while she was jogging. She had left the handgun in her computer bag, which was visible in the car.
- A gun stolen from the car of a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer was used in the slaying of muralist Art Ramos as he painted on a wall in Oakland in September 2015.
- In October 2015, the handgun of an off-duty CHP officer was stolen from his car while in San Francisco.
- In January 2016, 3 handguns were stolen out of an FBI vehicle parked in a Benicia neighborhood.
Under the new law, anyone who leaves a gun unattended in a car must lock it in a trunk or secure it in a locked container that is permanently stuck to the vehicle and out of plain view.
A violation is punishable as an infraction with a fine of up to $1,000.
NBC Bay Area's Lisa Fernandez, Pete Suratos, Michelle Roberts and Alan Waples contributed to this report.